Is Government Transparency Dead?

Two recent reports question government transparency. It appears the federal government and Florida legislature do not want the people to know how they spend taxpayer dollars. Waste, fraud and abuse are common in governments at every level.

Transparency is key too discovering where the government is wasting money, fraudulently hiding information and abusing taxpayers. The less transparency the more fraud, waste and abuse. President Obama ran on a platform of transparency as did Governor Rick Scott.

Want to find corruption? Then follow the money.

According to Knowledge@Wharton:

While all eyes are turned to the U.S. government’s enormous debt, few have given equal attention to the massive costs and risks embedded in another of the government’s financial functions: its role as lender rather than borrower. One group that has been analyzing the federal government is the the Financial Economists Roundtable (FER), a group of prominent academics that since 1993 has produced an annual statement based on financial analysis of a critical policy issue. In October, the FER published its 2012 statement, Accounting for the Cost of Government Credit Assistance. The FER is administered by the Wharton Financial Institutions Center.

According to FER:

Flaws in the way the government accounts for its loans and credit guarantees understate the costs that taxpayers are bearing with student loans and other credit programs totaling more than $2.5 trillion, plus more than $5 trillion in mortgages backed by the federally owned companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, a proper accounting — like that required of most businesses — would make the government’s budget deficit even larger than the officially reported amount.

“The federal government is the world’s largest financial institution, but policymakers and [government] managers are handicapped by an accounting system that is seriously deficient.  The accounting standards that the government sets for private financial institutions require far greater transparency than the rules that it imposes on itself,” says Deborah J. Lucas, finance professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and author of the FER statement.

Student loans and mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, among more than 100 other lending programs, contain potential losses that are much more costly than what current accounting suggests, according to the FER.

The Florida legislature created the TransparencyFlorida.gov website. The Florida Legislature created TransparencyFlorida.gov, and made it available to the public in January 2010. Its purpose is “to provide the public with unprecedented access to state government spending information by posting Florida’s operating budget and associated expenditure records online.”

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an organization that has been protecting and advancing open government in Florida for over 25 years, and Integrity Florida (IF), a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group released a report “Budget Transparency in the Sunshine State December 2012“.

According to FAF and IF, “Corruption does not like sunlight and disclosure is the key to accountability.”

FAF and IF assessed the Transparency 2.0 website developed by Spider Data Services and conclude that Florida would save millions of dollars and would receive an A grade for public access to government spending on future report cards if the site is allowed to publicly launch with a multi-year commitment from the State to invest in site maintenance and real-time data.

Version 2.0 of the TransparencyFlorida.gov website is at risk.

Version 2.0, “[W]ould allow Florida Governor Rick Scott to achieve his goal of Accountability Budgeting. By making each state agency set annual goals for every dollar they spend, those goals could be captured in the Planning module of the Transparency 2.0 site. Performance of state agencies would be easily measured against those goals and the public and policymakers could hold agencies accountable for their outcomes. Transparency 2.0 would allow all state officials and employees to justify the expenditure of Floridians’ tax dollars.”

FAF and IF strongly recommend that the Transparency 2.0 website be allowed to launch publicly to provide a globally competitive level of budget transparency and public access to information.

Without these watchdog groups government transparency would be dead. Only via transparency can government be held accountable and the people demand fraud, waste and abuse be stopped.

Failing Government-Owned Networks Examined

Fiscal pitfalls with government-owned networks are well-known here in Florida.

In 2003, the City of Quincy, Florida spent $3.3 million to build a fiber optic network known as NetQuincy. The system brought in $415,000 in 2005, less than 60 percent of its $710,000 in expenses. The City of Orlando experienced similar trouble with its free, public Wi-Fi program created in 2005. Built to support a mere 200 users, a scant 27 people actually used the service each day. The city kept the system running for 17 months – well passed the planned six-month trial period – and eventually decided the low usage rates did not justify the $1,800 per month price tag to taxpayers.

The latest Coalition for the New Economy report outlines past failures and questions the economic implications of GONs for taxpayers.

The Coalition for the New Economy today released a micro study by Dr. Joseph P. Fuhr Jr., professor of economics at Widener University in Chester, PA, that examines MI-Connection, a failing government-owned network in North Carolina.

“Five years ago, despite concern and skepticism from other nearby communities, the cities of Davidson and Mooresville, N.C. purchased a broadband network,” explained Fuhr. “Today, at the very point the system was to be profitable, officials in Davidson and Mooresville are contemplating how to get rid of the network, which has been a significant drain on the town’s resources and has piled loads of debt upon taxpayers.”

In the last three years, Davidson and Mooresville have provided $14 million in subsidies to MI-Connection, which Dr. Fuhr points out, has been a significant drain on the towns’ other priorities. For example, officials in Davidson have admitted the town cannot achieve financial stability until its commitment to the network has been reduced. Meanwhile, Mooresville officials have said they will have to tap the city’s general fund balance to meet its obligation to MI-Connection – which could mean fewer dollars for everything from education to public safety.

“This network represents some of the basic problems with government-owned broadband systems,” Fuhr said. “Government officials generally have zero experience running such sophisticated networks, which means they overestimate the revenues cities will receive from them and underestimate construction and maintenance costs. In 2007, officials in Troutman, Cornelius and Huntersville, N.C. realized these pitfalls and opted not to obligate themselves to MI-Connection. Their caution was the correct approach, which is why today Davidson mayor Laurie Venzon is on record saying other towns should not make the same mistake her town did.”

The MI-Connection micro study is the first in a series of three by Dr. Fuhr. In the coming weeks, CNE will release papers on the UTOPIA network in Utah and Burlington Telecom in Vermont.

The micro study can be viewed in its entirety on the CNE website.

The Coalition for the New Economy (CNE), which commissioned Fuhr’s study, is dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to innovative technologies and that policies are fair, fiscally responsible and will allow for increased access and adoption.

Update: Massive Voter Fraud in St. Lucie County, FL Called into Question – 141% Turnout

Click on the link below for the official St Lucie County, FL 2012 election results. Only one precinct had less than 113% turnout. The unofficial vote count is 175,554 registered voters 247,713 vote cards cast (141.10% ). The National SEAL Museum, a St. Lucie county polling place, had 158.85% voter turn out, the highest in the county.

When asked about the 141% Supervisor of  Elections Gertrude Walker stated, “They may have had something like that in Palm Beach County, but we’ve never seen that here.”

Statement of Votes Cast St. Lucie County 2012 General Election November 6, 2012*

Supervisor Walker has posted this notice on her official website:

THE CANVASSING BOARD MEETING SCHEDULED FOR THE RECOUNT ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2012 AT 7:00 AM HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2012 AT 7:00 AM AT THE SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS OFFICE, 4132 OKEECHOBEE ROAD MALL ENTRANCE 2.

It appears that Allen West is justified in asking for a lock-down on the ballot boxes and machines in St. Lucie County. According to the November 7th Supervisor of  Elections report Allen B. West garnered 52,625 votes in St.Lucie county and Patrick Murphy 65,896 votes.

*SOVC For Jurisdiction Wide, All Counters, All Races UNOFFICIAL RESULTS WITHOUT PROVISIONAL

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 11, 1012

We at Watchdog Wire – Florida appreciate the large number of comments to this post.

Some of the more recent comments call into question the definition of “cards” versus ballots.

According to Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent, “Cards are pages, ballots are the full ballot consisting of both pages.”

The 2012 Presidential Ballot in Florida consisted of two pages. Both pages were two sided giving voters the opportunity to vote for candidates for public office on page 1 and 11 Constitutional ballot initiatives on page 2. The issue being correctly discussed is: Does each ballot consist of two cards? If yes, then there would be two times the number of cards as votes cast or in the case of St. Lucie County 175,554 times 2 there would be an expected 351,108 cards (two page ballots) cast.

However, according to the SOE there were 247,713 or 141.10% of cards cast. A valid question is what happened to the other 58.9% of cards cast? The SOE will be recounting ballots on November 13th and is required to submit her certification of the election on November 15th. We will update this post then with the final results.

In 2010 Florida experienced problems with long ballots, it may be this issue has returned in 2012.

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 12, 2012

Tim Edson, Campaign Manager for the Allen West for Congress campaign stated in an email:

“Today the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections, after promising to recount all early votes, counted only ballots from the last three days of early voting, netting Allen West over 500 votes. The problem is those aren’t the first three days of early voting—the days the Supervisor of Elections originally said were compromised by faulty data cards in the machines.

We will continue to fight for a recount of all early votes. In addition, we will ensure that the public is able to view the poll book sign-ins to ensure the number of early votes cast match the numbers of voters who checked-in to vote.

Nothing coming out of Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker’s office adds up, stories are constantly changing, and the hostile attitude of the Supervisor is disturbing. What originally looked like dangerous incompetence is looking more and more like a willful attempt to steal an election.”

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 15, 2012

Tim Edson, Campaign Manager for the Allen West states in an email:

On Sunday the St. Lucie Supervisor of Elections conducted a partial recount of early voting. As a result of that count, the total number of votes dropped by 799. Then on Monday the Supervisor of Elections explained the drop by saying 3,650 votes were double counted on Election Night and 1,950 were not counted at all. Basic math tells us that removing 3,600 double counted votes and adding 1,950 does not add up to a drop of 799 votes, but rather a drop of about 1,700.

Of course, the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections could clear up a lot of this fuzzy math if she would simply release the poll sign-in books so Floridians could see if the number of voters who checked into vote corroborates the number of votes cast. She refuses to do so.

TRUE THE VOTE STATEMENT REGARDING ONGOING RECOUNT ISSUES IN THE FL-18 CONGRESSIONAL RACE

HOUSTON, TX. November 15, 2012― True the Vote (TTV), the nonpartisan election integrity organization, today commented on the ongoing dispute over vote counts in St. Lucie County, potentially affecting the outcome of the Florida 18th Congressional District’s election.

“True the Vote commends Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s decision to dispatch auditors to St. Lucie County,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht said. “Between Florida’s recent election history, questionable vote counts, misinformation and partisan emotion, total transparency is the only solution for all parties involved.

“Florida voters deserve a full, unfiltered explanation of the facts. One cannot know whether all the numbers add up if poll books are kept from public inspection. Understanding precise voter check-ins and corresponding ballots cast will answer many questions.

“Secretary Detzner, Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have shown great leadership on a national scale in promoting election integrity. The State of Florida takes great care in ensuring that voter rolls are maintained in accordance with federal election laws and has also committed to prosecuting interstate voter fraud.

“True the Vote is watching these recount proceedings very closely, as should every American who values the sanctity of their vote. We encourage citizens in the district to volunteer as poll watchers and to remain engaged until all vagaries have been resolved. Total transparency should be agreeable to all parties involved; if not, one must question why.”

True The Vote (TTV) a nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization focused on preserving election integrity is operated by citizens for citizens, to inspire and equip volunteers for involvement at every stage of our electoral process. TTV empowers organizations and individuals across the nation to actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation. For more information, please visit www.truethevote.org.

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 16, 2012

GOP leaders back West’s call for recount

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 17, 2012

ST. LUCIE COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD ORDERS RETABULATION OF ALL EARLY VOTES IN ALLEN WEST RACE

Election Official: Mistakes Have Been Made in Allen West Race

RELATED COLUMNS:

West challenges results as Florida declares vote-tally over amid recounts and irregularities

ELECTION FRAUD…FLORIDA STYLE

St. Lucie County election results posted, after hours of delay.

‘WE HAVE SOME VERY SERIOUS CHALLENGES TO MAKE’: ALLEN WEST CAMPAIGN LAWYER SAYS ‘ABSOLUTELY NO CHANCE OF CONCESSION’

 Video: Angry crowd reacts to ‘misleading recount’ in Allen West race

IG Probes Hiding of Records by Florida Department of Elder Affairs

In September 2012, the State of Florida opened an investigation by the Inspector General’s Office, Department of Elder Affairs, into allegations that the State’s top official overseeing the nearly 1,000 registered professional guardians practicing in Florida conspired with public guardians to conceal hundreds of records in a guardianship abuse case.

Florida is well known for its large population of elders, more than any other state. As such, it is the perfect place for perfect crimes against those aged persons who are put by the courts under the absolute control of the State, so that they are deprived by law of every civil right.

In 1987, a committee formed by Congress to examine abusive guardianship practices concluded that the typical Ward has fewer rights than the typical convicted felon.

The committee found that, not only could the alleged incapacitated person “no longer receive money or pay [his or her] bills,” but courts give guardians “the power to choose where [the alleged incapacitated person] will live, what medical treatment they will receive and, in rare cases, when they will die.”

In sum, the congressional committee saw guardianship as “the most severe form of civil deprivation which can be imposed on a citizen of the United States.”

What happens when a state turns its back on its own laws and on its most vulnerable citizens? The State of Florida can answer this query, based upon newly-revealed e-mails in which the State’s highest official overseeing thousands upon thousands of guardianships of incapacitated elders concealed from a Ward’s estate hundreds of documents from a public guardianship agency under her supervision.

For a Ward, it is a court-appointed guardian who is legally entitled to control every aspect of the Ward’s life and every asset he owns, personal possessions, money and real property. It is a court appointee who is legally permitted to exercise every decision for the Ward – where he lives, what he eats, his doctors and medical treatments, access to his family members, and how much of his own money can be spent on him or, instead, on the guardian and his attorney.

In Florida, the statutory qualifications for the invasive authoritarian position of professional guardian do not include any educational degrees, specific skills, prior relevant experience, or academic qualifications.

In sum, after reaching 18 years old, staying out of trouble with the law, taking 40 hours of guardianship training and passing an exam, anyone can obtain absolute power over a completely-helpless human being, with no capacity to protect himself from abuse or exploitation, and over millions of dollars of wards’ assets.

Any professional guardian or agency may totally control the lives of hundreds of Wards and assets of hundreds of millions of dollars, without ever personally knowing their Wards through more than occasional brief visits, which are not even documented with photographs or videotapes to evidence how the Wards are faring under state control.

Guardianship agencies are licensed by the State by submitting minimalistic corporate papers that require brief time to prepare. To become a public guardianship agency in Florida, the agency must sign contracts with the State, which contracts specifically require every agency to keep meticulous paper and electronic records on each of its Wards for at least six years, but what happens when all of an agency’s records on a Ward disappear well before the six-year period has ended?

Holocaust Survivor Al Katz’s family knows the answer to this question. In seeking the records from his public guardianship agency that controlled his life and assets for months, Al’s family was told all of his records had been shipped to the State capital, Tallahassee, and none (except for two pages) had been retained by the agency, Aging Safely of Bradenton, Florida. Likewise, the agency claimed that it never kept a single electronic communication concerning Al and his guardianship.

When Aging Safely’s attorney, Erika Dine, was served with a subpoena by Al’s family for her records, she immediately sought to quash the subpoena, claiming that the hundreds of documents (including Al’s medical records) she had were either confidential from his family or irrelevant with respect to his care while he was in the complete control of the public guardians. Starkly, Ms. Dine was not only Aging Safely’s attorney during its troubled guardianship of Al Katz, but was also a Board Member of the corporation and the law partner of its current attorney and registered agent. In addition, she holds the role of Vice President of the Manatee County Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Inc. In court, Ms. Dine’s lawyer, James Essenson, repeatedly described Al’s daughter as “crazy” and her subpoena for Al’s guardianship records as “harassment.”

It is believed that Al Katz’s case is the first one in the nation to have indisputable evidence that high-level state officials actively obstructed justice and covered up crimes against a state Ward.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE AL KATZ STORY:

Individuals with substantial financial means who need guardianship services are at risk. They may fall prey to dishonest individuals who are willing to act on behalf of the person with diminished capacity in order to gain access to the latter’s finances for their own personal benefit.

Often, a petitioner sues for guardianship of the person and of the property. This gives the guardian total control over the alleged incapacitated person and his or her property.

When the Manatee County public guardians, Directors of Aging Safely, filed their petition in court on September 18, 2009, to become Al Katz’s temporary plenary guardian of his person and property, Al was an 89-year-old mobile and verbal successful businessman, who had spent his winters in Bradenton for more than 25 years. Over 32 years earlier, he had lost his wife and was losing most of his peers by attrition. Al was lonely, vulnerable, and prosperous. Manatee County in September 2009 was suffering severe financial losses, and Al’s assets would be a boon for a variety of professionals, businesses, and agencies, if only they could be accessed.

Al’s temporary guardianship was granted immediately to the public guardians, and his life lost the steady direction it had taken since the Holocaust had ended 64 years before. His road had always been arduous, but he had remained a survivor in every way.

During Al’s temporary public guardianship, Ms. Dine fiercely opposed the appointment of Al’s daughter, Beverly Newman, to be his permanent guardian. Her vehement opposition to Dr. Newman’s appointment was so deep-seated that she vociferously objected to Dr. Newman’s efforts to visit her infirm, distraught, aged Father in a Bradenton nursing home, where he was kept by Aging Safely thousands of miles away from any family members except for his daughter.

On September 18, 2009, just hours before the Jewish Sabbath and New Year, Al Katz was made a Ward of the State of Florida by a judge who knew that Al did not qualify in any way under Florida law to be placed in public guardianship, which is intended for indigents domiciled in Florida whose families either cannot or will not care for them. The surprise guardianship hearing was not attended by any of Al’s family or by Al himself. In fact, Al’s daughter, Beverly, already had an active guardianship case for her Father in Indiana, where he was domiciled; nevertheless, Al’s Florida guardianship was granted to total strangers without any opportunity for Beverly to oppose it.

Simply put, Al’s family was already on record as willing and qualified to care for him without any governmental intervention by the State of Florida.

Although Beverly was never notified of the temporary guardianship hearing, in violation of Florida law, the guardianship petition of Aging Safely was granted in 15 minutes, as Al’s life went from complete adult independence to forced institutionalization at the hands of the State. Al lost every right of a citizen in the United States in one quarter of an hour.

ASSETS JUST FOR THE TAKING

Numerous studies and media articles across the country have documented cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of persons with diminished capacity and their estates by their court-appointed guardian.

Petitions are sometimes initiated by organizations and individuals who may have a conflict of interest—professional guardians, guardians ad litem, administrators of long-term care facilities and hospitals, and family members who stand to benefit financially.

When Aging Safely was appointed Al’s plenary guardian of his person and property, with immediacy, it set into motion a purposeful series of actions in its own interests, beginning with hiring a local locksmith to open Al’s house for Aging Safely’s Officers, Jonene Eisch and Ashley Butler, to enter and to take anything inside – papers, valuables, personal possessions, legal documents, and whatnot.

In Florida, a person totally unknown to a new Ward of the State is lawfully permitted, as a guardian, to raid the Ward’s home without supervision or any documentation; remove any amount of items without listing, identifying, or photographing them; store them anywhere; and change all of the locks so that neither the Ward nor his family can enter thereafter without the presence or the permission of the State-appointed gatekeeper.

Individuals with substantial financial means [as Al Katz] who need guardianship services are at risk. They may fall prey to individuals who … are willing to act on behalf of the person with diminished capacity in order to gain access to the latter’s finances for their own personal benefit.

From that point on, the State often operates in secrecy. “Once a guardian is appointed, the guardian rarely consults with the Ward before making a decision.” Virtually all decisions, even life and death, are made by strangers to the Ward and his family. In Al Katz’s case, he was shipped off to live in a neglectful nursing home, against the express wishes of his family and despite his explicit wishes written multiple times in his various advance directives, “in no event shall I ever be placed in a nursing home facility….” These words were as if written on the wind, written, dismissed, and discarded by strangers who personally benefited by their actions against the will of their Ward and of his family.

From the Bradenton Casa Mora nursing home, Al’s life took a horrible turn to institutionalization in a lock-down unit at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where Al’s guardians arranged to put him into a Baker Act involuntary commitment. Within just a few days of time, Al had been moved from his home in Bradenton to a hospital, then to a nursing home, and into a second hospital, all without his understanding why he was being transferred from one institution to another. Neither Al nor Beverly knew where he would be taken next, for what purpose, or for how long.

HOW HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS SUFFER FROM INSTITUTIONALIZATION

The wrong guardian or an inappropriate or premature guardianship can be the very act that triggers a chain of events leading to the unnecessary or premature institutionalization, causing the ward to give up hope. It may be the event that hastens death.

A famous Holocaust Survivor, Roman Kent, explains the plights of Survivors in the final fight for their lives:

In our old age, gruesome memories come back to haunt us, and we relive that period in our lives. In a way, we are the same as any old, sick person. But we have undeniably experienced more pain, more bad memories, more suffering. We witnessed evil first-hand and are understandably more suspicious. To top it off, we feel a greater sense of loneliness because we remember being abandoned. Sometimes we can’t help feeling we are being abandoned once again.

Al Katz’s sense of abandonment was intense and pervasive, as he languished for three weeks in the Manatee Memorial Hospital lock-down unit, with a no-contact order on him, and then for three more weeks in Casa Mora’s lockdown unit, never knowing why he was there and why his daughter could not take him home (since the court order that allowed Beverly to visit with her Father only three hours per day, specifically forbade her to explain to Al any of the legal matters regarding his guardianship and his daughter’s visitations with him). Al was thereby totally shut out of his own legal case and the myriads of decisions being made about his life.

As a Holocaust Survivor, everyday is inextricably linked with the past of horrors. “Auschwitz is much more than just a part of me — it is all of me. The same holds true for each and every survivor.”

Roman Kent, one of the most outspoken and eloquent voices of the Survivors, explains the trepidations and penetrating emotions of Survivors:

… [over] 60 years after the liberation of the camps, not too many of us are still alive. None of us is a youngster anymore.

… Now in our old age, we constantly and vividly relive our wartime experiences, and have ailments caused by the suffering endured decades ago.

We suffer from physical and emotional distress at higher rates than the elderly population as a whole. Prolonged malnutrition under the Nazis has affected our health…. There are particularly high rates of dementia and schizophrenia among Jewish victims of Nazism. Many of us are alone as a result of having lost our entire family during the Holocaust.

It is unfathomable how much Al suffered in months of institutional lockdown apart from his family, confused and alone, reliving the Holocaust, and wanting nothing more than to go home with his family.

We survivors are adamant about remaining in our own homes rather than entering a nursing home. To someone who endured incarceration by the Nazis, the prospect of institutionalization is frightening. It triggers memories and even induces panic. Home care, therefore, has emerged as one of our most pressing needs.
At the end of their days, Survivors want most of all the familiarity and security of their own homes and families. Al Katz’s guardians were oblivious and impervious to his deepest needs as a human being who had suffered the worst of mankind’s brutality inflicted against others of his own kind. The guardians never let their guards down in preventing Al from returning to his beloved home and family. His fate in their hands was a certain death sentence meted out in placements in multiple institutions week after week, month upon month, until he would meet his end.

In lock-down at the Manatee Memorial Hospital, under the guardians’ directives, a complicit physician issued a no-contact order on Al to have no communications of any kind with his family and friends. Al was held behind large electronically-controlled doors in this state of incommunicado, as a murderer might be punished, for three weeks in the dingy, secluded basement of a large urban hospital. Against the law, Al was sequestered for two-and-a-half weeks after the maximum Baker Act detention period of three days had expired, having been given no (mandatory) court hearings for the entire three weeks. Al was a prisoner in the hands of a state guardianship system run amuck. One 81-year-old Florida Ward summed up her time in guardianship, “It was awful. They robbed me of money, time and dignity.”

In his involuntary confinement incommunicado, Al suffered all of the predictable effects on a Holocaust Survivor of isolation and institutionalization – extreme episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, confusion, grief, intense anxiety, and feelings of abandonment. Although his family waited for him day-in and day-out outside of his barricaded quarters, Al had no idea of their whereabouts or even of his own. For weeks, Beverly filed motions in court for Al’s release, none of which was ever heard. Al had been sentenced to death by institutionalization, to the extravagant benefit (hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by taxpayers and by Al Katz) of his guardians, a host of attorneys, his nursing home and hospitals, and the Manatee County courts. The pie of money and assets that Al represented was thick and ample for many.

THE DEATH-MOBILE

On October 12, 2009, Al was abruptly released from Manatee Memorial Hospital lockdown, without notice to his family, and transferred to his new lock-down unit at Casa Mora nursing home, still completely incommunicado and confused about his past, present, and future whereabouts. For three weeks, he had rarely and barely slept, wandering the hospital hallway interminably, and wanting desperately to go home. His wants were his guardians’ immediate rejections.

Casa Mora specialized in fattening Al’s waist from a size 40 inches to a size 50 with steady useless in-takes of sugars and in secluding him from congenial and happy elders. Instead, Al’s lot was intentionally cast with women whose voices were heard in endless screams, men whose mouths never uttered an intelligible word, and one man, in particular, whose daily gear entailed a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads designed to buffer his bouts of physical contact with elders a fraction of his size, like Al.

In mortal fear, Al lived in his latest lock-down unit selected by his court-appointed guardians, paid at taxpayer expense, and approved by his court-appointed attorney, paid by Al’s dwindling assets. Indeed, attorney Ernie Lisch’s bill for legal services to Al, that never included a single motion filed in his behalf or even one visit to Al’s confinement quarters at the hospital, was an astounding amount of nearly $25,000.00, which was immediately approved by the court that appointed him.

“[T]he American legal system may treat [Wards]… worse than murder suspects …..[T]he legal system also has contributed to a pattern of grievous abuses [against Wards]…,For most people a declaration of mental incompetence is an irrevocable life sentence….Incompetency declarations rarely are reversed, ….”

Al’s vehicle to death was indubitably institutionalization, which he had dreaded all of his adult life following his more than seven years of slave labor in the Holocaust and a death march that he barely survived. He would be certain to die in involuntary placement at Casa Mora, where his living quarters consisted of a bed tucked in the back corner of a drab room at the very rear of the nursing home behind layers of electronic locks and coded metal doors. From involuntary confinement for three weeks in a hospital lockdown unit incommunicado, Al was sent by his guardians to a nursing home lock-down unit, again without any communications permitted by his guardians for Al to have with his family.

Predictably, within days of his institutionalization at Casa Mora, Al was hospitalized with extreme pitting edema and cellulitis. Although the guardianship court had just recently granted Beverly the right to visit her Father after two days of contested hearings, in which Jonene Eisch, Ashley Butler, and their attorney Erika Dine demanded that Beverly should have no visitations with her Father, Al once more was placed under a no-contact order by his new receiving hospital, Blake Medical Center, sited 50 feet from Casa Mora.

THE “TOXIC CASE”

By an e-mail dated October 12, 2009, sent well before dawn, Ashley Butler contacted attorney Michelle Hollister, the Executive Director of the Statewide Public Guardianship Office (responsible for the oversight of all of Florida’s public guardianship offices as well as for appointing and contracting with existing and potential public guardians), seeking help with the Al Katz guardianship, which Ms. Butler described as “a very toxic case.” The date and time of Aging Safely’s pre-dawn e-mail were significant since its Officers had finally been ordered by a judge to a hearing, to take place that same morning, on Al’s prolonged involuntary confinement, which, by law, should have terminated on September 27. It was now October 12, and Al had been unlawfully sequestered by Aging Safely in lock-down for weeks.

October 12, 2009, was a seminal day in Al’s life; for he was finally going to have a court hearing to determine where he would be allowed by the State of Florida to live. Of course, Al had no idea before the hearing that it was going to be held or afterwards that it had been held, and he had not a single person to advocate for his fervent desire to go home.

Tragically and predictably, Al’s numerous taxpayer-paid representatives (Jonene Eisch, Ashley Butler, Erika Dine, Dr. Gregory Onderko, two public defenders, and one state’s attorney) all joined ranks in the fateful decision to send Al directly from the Manatee Memorial Hospital lock-down unit to the Casa Mora lock-down unit. Neither Al’s written advance directives, held by Aging Safely, forbidding his placement in “a nursing home facility” nor his family’s pleas for the same were ever mentioned by anyone at the hearing or considered by the presiding judge, Paul Logan, or by his magistrate, Susan Maulucci.

What role did Michelle Hollister, a top Florida state bureaucrat administering a multi-million dollar budget, play in the events of October 12, 2009?

Ms. Hollister did not demand that the wishes of Al and his family should be advocated and advanced by Aging Safely at the momentous hearing. Likewise, Florida’s top official for the protection of the State’s tens of thousands of Wards did not insist that Al’s public guardianship be reversed due to Aging Safely’s wanton violations of laws in taking guardianship of Al, a non-resident of Florida and non-indigent, without notice to his daughter, who already had an open guardianship case for her Father in his home state of Indiana.

Contemporaneously, when Beverly had sought the help of Michelle Hollister in rescuing her Father from his illegal guardianship under Aging Safely, no assistance whatsoever was provided to her. Although Ms. Hollister became familiar with the “very toxic [guardianship] case” of Al Katz from both Beverly and Aging Safely, the State of Florida never relented in its efforts to keep Al Katz institutionalized and sequestered from his daughter, who had left Indiana to care for him in Florida.

Shortly after Aging Safely’s communication with Ms. Hollister and the subsequent court hearing that morning, Al was shipped off to Casa Mora, four minutes from his home, without explanation or notification to his family. Behind and before every decision made for Al and against his interests were Aging Safely’s attorney and corporate Director, Erika Dine, and her clients, Jonene Eisch and Ashley Butler; yet Dine and her clients claimed and continue to claim that every record of Al Katz’s guardianship was no longer in their possession, irrelevant to Al’s care, or confidential from his own family, including his medical records.

WARD RECORDS SEQUESTERED BY THE STATE

Just as the State of Florida had sequestered Al Katz from his daughter for weeks in September and October 2009, it concealed Al’s guardianship records from Beverly, as the Personal Representative of his estate, for years.

Beginning in early 2010, Beverly, in her capacity as her Father’s newly-appointed Guardian of the Person, began requesting Al’s guardianship records from Aging Safely and from Erika Dine, none of which records was ever provided through these requests. Two years later, in February 2012, Beverly served four subpoenas for Al Katz’s guardianship records upon Jonene Eisch, Ashley Butler, Aging Safely, and Erika Dine.

Five days after, Jonene Eisch contacted attorney Yolanda Siples, who had replaced Ms. Hollister, advising Ms. Siples that Aging Safely had found several of the subpoenaed items that had not been sent to Siples previously and telling her that attorney Erika Dine wanted to talk to her.

Just minutes later, Ms. Dine followed up on this e-mail, seeking advice from Ms. Siples as to how her office “wanted to handle the subpoena.” Two days afterwards, Ms. Eisch confirmed by e-mail that she sent more subpoenaed documents to Ms. Siples “per [her] request.” This e-mail was copied to attorney Christopher Smith, who is Erika Dine’s law partner, the registered agent for Aging Safely, and the attorney representing Aging Safely and its Directors in the matter of the subpoenas for Al Katz’s guardianship records served upon them.

Once all of the subpoenaed records had been secreted to Ms. Siples in Tallahassee, Mr. Smith sent an e-mail to Beverly’s attorney informing him that “… all records pertaining to Mr. Katz were previously turned over to the State of Florida, Department of Elder Affairs, upon the resignation of the public guardian [in 2011]. None of the Recipients kept copies of her documents.”

Just days later, Ms. Dine filed a motion in court for a protective order with respect to the subpoena she had received from Beverly, claiming that Al Katz’s guardianship documents were all either irrelevant to his care in the nursing home, where she had him placed, or were confidential. At the hearing on Ms. Dine’s motion for protective order, her attorney repeatedly advised the court that Beverly and her accusations about Ms. Dine’s role in secreting subpoenaed documents, in violation of the law, were “crazy.”

The court ruled in Ms. Dine’s favor despite the overwhelming objective evidence, in the form of multiple e-mails to and from Ms. Dine detailing her active involvement with the Statewide Public Guardianship Office in concealing from Beverly her Father’s guardianship records, showing abuse, exploitation, and neglect of Al Katz while he was in the complete control of the State of Florida.

Citizens Want Florida Forever’s Land Grab Stopped

On October 11 and November 5, 2012 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Acquisition and Restoration Council are holding open house events to allow the public to comment on how Florida Forever projects should be prioritized. The Department and the Council develop an annual ranking of statewide land acquisition projects to prioritize the distribution of funds. The ranking is under review and includes more than 100 projects on the Florida Forever priority list, as well as the new Florida Forever proposals.

Karen Schoen, a proponent of individual property rights, in an email states, “Florida Forever owns/controls enough land costing the taxpayer billions yearly. We must Stop Florida Forever and the artificial land grabs. Florida Forever will have 2000 people at the poles for a petition drive to get more money to buy more land. We must do the same.”

Schoen offers draft legislation to stop the funding of Florida Forever. The proposed act begins, “Relating to public policy, due process, and private real property; to strongly reject United Nations Agenda 21 and its ancillary programs; to prohibit the State of Florida and all of its political subdivisions from adopting and developing environmental and developmental policies that, without due process, would infringe or restrict the sovereignty of the State of Florida and private property rights of the owner of private property.”

“According to its Web site Florida Forever manages 9,900,000 acres already (owning 2.5 million acres which were purchased costing the taxpayer lost tax revenues) Florida Forever owns or controls 10% of the land in Florida. The Florida Forever map on their web site looks like the Agenda 21 bio-diversity map,” notes Schoen.

Diane Ross in her March 2011 column “The Florida Story” states, “Spread the word and expose corrupt conditions such as exist in Miami Dade County. Property owners in the remaining part of 8.5 square mile area, Hialeah and South Dade in Dade County, Florida have been subjected to attacks on their private property rights by the Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) along with … Local Governments for Sustainability and various government officials.”

Ross stated, “Property owners are understandably distrustful of government using the arm of DERM (which is funded through taxpayer dollars, fees, fines and grants) to potentially confiscate their property. DERM declares people’s property a ‘wetlands’ without supplying documentation of soil tests and other criteria that are stated on their website. The documents have been requested from DERM but so far DERM has never presented any.”

“The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI ) has a commitment to ‘sustainable development’ throughout the world which in essence results in a private property land grab veiled in warm and fuzzy terms. ICLEI comes up with regulations and other ideas that restrict property owners from using their land. Their regulations include the Endangered Species Act, wetland regulations (as in Dade County) and a myriad of other laws governing the use of plants, animals, air, water, land and sea. ICLEI has infiltrated local governments in the USA and around the world,” reports Ross.

Ross found, “Harvey Ruvin, Miami Dade Clerk of the Court, was Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of ICLEI, a non-elected position. He is also Chair of the County’s Climate Change Advisory Task Force (CCATC). He, with the Mayor of Miami Dade County appoints the Financial Director. He also serves on the Executive Council of CCOC (Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corps) which discusses budgetary business for the 67 clerk offices in Florida. He has the power and contacts to help implement United Nations Agenda 21 policies that take people’s rights away in the name of the “environment.”

Pam Evans says, “Miami Dade County is run by a government that is proud to be a model city for ICLEI – a United Nations program implemented through local town councils, planners, mayors….”

Those unable to attend the public hearing are invited to provide their comments in writing via email to Jim.Farr@dep.state.fl.us or via US mail to Mr. Jim Farr, ARC Staff Director, Division of State Lands, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, MS 140, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000. For more information about the ARC and current Florida Forever projects, visit:  http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/arc.htm.

TRUE THE VOTE: NEW EVIDENCE OF CROSS-STATE ABSENTEE VOTER FRAUD

True The Vote (TTV), the nonpartisan election integrity organization, today released preliminary research findings that already show evidence of 31 cases of absentee ballot fraud in New York and Florida. The Office of Florida Secretary of State, the New York State Board of Elections and the U.S. Department of Justice were formally notified of ballots cast simultaneously in both states for federal elections.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” True The Vote President, Catherine Engelbrecht said. “This is further evidence of just how susceptible our election system is to voter fraud. Earlier this year, Pew Research found more than 2.75 million people nationwide are registered to vote in more than one state. These early findings put a name, face and potential motivation behind that startling statistic. True The Vote calls on Florida, New York and federal officials to investigate and confirm our citizen research.”

True The Vote began the process of identifying potential absentee voter fraud by accessing Florida’s complete voter registration roll and cross-referencing it against 10 percent of New York’s comprehensive list. Preliminary audits indicated more than one million Florida voters claimed New York mailing addresses. Over 1,700 people were found with voter registrations in both states. Today 31 voters were turned over to state and federal election authorities after being matched based on full name, birth date, reciprocal mailing addresses and voting history demonstrating ballots cast in both states during the same federal election cycle.

In each case, federal and state laws were potentially violated as a result of these activities. Both New York and Florida require voters to cast ballots corresponding with their permanent residential addresses. Federal law, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(e) clearly states that voters cannot cast more than one ballot in the same election.

“This should serve as a warning to any individual considering committing voter fraud in this year’s election,” Engelbrecht said. “True The Vote enjoys cooperative relationships with these states and many more. These findings are only the beginning of our effort. As today is National Voter Registration Day, it’s important to remember that no candidate or cause is worth a felony conviction.”

ABOUT TRUE THE VOTE

True The Vote (TTV) a nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization focused on preserving election integrity is operated by citizens for citizens, to inspire and equip volunteers for involvement at every stage of our electoral process. TTV empowers organizations and individuals across the nation to actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation. For more information, please visit www.truethevote.org.

The Case Against Energy Subsidies in Florida

State Rep. Scott Plankton

State Representative Scott Plankton and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam have been pushing for government subsidies to grow Florida’s economy. According to James M. Taylor, J.D., from Florida Political Press, reports, “Digital Domain Media Group Inc. closed its taxpayer-subsidized film studio Tuesday and filed for bankruptcy protection, just a few short months after State Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) told skeptical Tea Party leaders that the Florida film industry provides a sterling example of why government officials should hand over taxpayer dollars to politically connected renewable energy companies.”

According to Taylor, “Between 2009 and 2012, Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature and various local governments handed over $135 million in taxpayer subsidies to Digital Domain. Those subsidies included prime real estate and a lavish headquarters building in addition to direct cash payments.

“$135 Million Wasted,” notes Taylor.

“In an April conversation with Tea Party leaders unhappy about legislation giving renewable energy companies $100 million in taxpayer subsidies, Plakon said state subsidies for film companies such as Digital Domain demonstrate why it is good for government to generously subsidize politically connected companies and industries,” writes Taylor.

Another effort to use government money to subsidize energy in Florida is the Energy Economic Zone (EEZ). There are two EEZ pilot projects currently underway, one in Sarasota County and another in the City of Miami, Florida.

Why an Energy Economic Zone, why now and for what purpose?

Dennis Cauchon, writer for USA Today, in his column “Household electricity bills skyrocket” points out, “Electricity is consuming a greater share of Americans’ after-tax income than at any time since 1996 — about $1.50 of every $100 in income at a time when income growth has stagnated, a USA TODAY analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data found. Greater electricity use at home and higher prices per kilowatt hour are both driving the higher costs, in roughly equal measure. . .”

It makes sense for households, businesses and government to find ways to save on their electric bills. But is the creation of a government subsidized EEZ the way to do that?

One of the driving forces behind the creation of an EEZ in Sarasota County is the building of a methane power plant at the county landfill. According to Gary Bennett from Sarasota County, “County staff will be recommending that a private developer be allowed to design/build/operate a landfill gas to energy facility at the Central County Landfill in Nokomis. Staff believes the project is feasible. The estimated cost would be roughly $5-6 million dollars for a 3.2 megawatt facility based on cost estimates we have seen. Permitting is extensive. Includes both state and local. [The] Developer would pay the cost. Power would be fed to the power grid so no back up needed. This project once approved takes roughly 18 months to permit and complete.”

County staff was asked if a feasibility study was conducted.

According to Gary Bennett, “We did look at costs if the County would build a facility but it was looked at in a very simplistic manner. It was not feasible for the County when the price of renewable energy that would be paid the County dropped from about 7 cents a kilowatt hour to around 5 cents a kilowatt hour. Since this would be a developer driven project with all the financial risk on the developer, they will determine whether the project is feasible. The County would be looking for the developer to pay the County revenue for the landfill gas supplied to their facility.” Floridians currently pay 11.44 cents per kilowatt hour.

The two developers involved in the pilot EEZ are Hugh Culverhouse and Henry Rodriguez.

There is a key problem. EPA studies show a landfill must have trash rates over 1 million cubic feet/year minimum to produce enough methane for a plant. Sarasota County falls well below this level of trash rate per year. What will determine whether a generation unit can be successful are the percent of methane (usually 35-50 %) and the cubic feet per minute for each well. As the methane is collected it is sent thru scrubbers to clean and purify the gas prior to burning it to produce steam for a turbine or used in modified vehicles like buses or trash trucks as fuel. If not enough is available at a high enough concentration or pressure it is unlikely that Sarasota County landfill is a good candidate. Additionally, being a public/private utility it could be tax exempt and thus its inclusion in the EEZ is not needed.

The EEZ pilot projects are the first step in a process to create energy subsidies in all 67 of Florida’s counties and many cities for an questionable return on the taxpayers investment. After all saving energy is in everyone’s best interest. Do Floridians really need government stepping in to help?

Will the EEZ become Florida’s version of Solyndra?

Sarasota County’s 2009 Jobs Plan – An Analysis

Jobs are top of mind during the 2012 election cycle. Elected officials from President Obama on down are touting their pro-economic growth records and job creation skills. Sarasota County is no exception. It is appropriate to review their on going efforts to “create jobs” in Sarasota County, FL.

In April 2009 Sarasota County released its Five-Year Economic Development Strategic Plan. The Five-Year Plan states, “Community and business leaders have made it clear that a shotgun approach will no longer work. This proposed plan is based on five guiding principles: Promote the growth/health of existing businesses; Create an environment that promotes homegrown businesses and innovation; Diversify the economy through platforms that build on our unique assets; Make strategic plays in emerging markets; ƒ Leverage resources and investments to grow capacity to pursue economic opportunities.”

The plan may be characterized as the County Commission’s “jobs bill”. The strategic plan, now in its third year, recognized that the recession had hit Sarasota. 

Based upon the strategic plan, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners on September 15, 2010 passed Resolution 2010-199. It created a goal to “promote economic activity in the County by providing economic incentives that will encourage diverse new businesses to relocate to Sarasota County and current businesses to expand.” One of the things created was an “economic development fund” and an incentives or awards program. One of the purposes is to attract new or help expanding companies that “provide an above-average wage to its employees”.

The resolution goes into great detail to lay out a series of “Economic Development Factors” that “shall be applied when the Board makes its determination on ad valorem tax exemptions to a requesting business”. But what about guidelines for the “economic development fund”? This question is germane as the fund has already given out $4,482,303 with an additional $5,527,797 in awards remaining to be paid. The $10 million for this “fund” came from the sale of foreclosed properties and collection of unpaid County property taxes. Click here to view the 2012 Economic Development report to the County (slides 65-68).

Jeff Maultsby, Manager of Business and Economic Development, Steve Botelho and Lisa Damschroder from the Office of Financial Planning and Joan McGill, Vice President of Business Development at the Economic Development Corporation, said there is no system in place to select the best candidates to meet the goals established by the County Commission. As of now there is no way to accurately determine any return on investment to the County from these awards (staff indicated the purchase of a software program may to help address this).

Here is an analysis of the County economic development efforts to date:

Of the $4.48 million awarded, PGT received $600,00 and Tervis Tumbler $450,00 (two awards) given since 2010, for a combined total payout of $1,050,000 (23% of all awards to date). These two companies actually added the following: PGT – 432 jobs, Tervis Tumbler – 413 jobs. PGT and Tervis Tumbler added 845 or 80.6% of 1,048 jobs created to date under this awards program.

This would seem like a big win for the County until one drills down a little deeper.

As Resolution 2010-199 states the County Commission wants to attract and expand businesses with an “above-average wage”. The average wage for all industries in Sarasota County according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research is $38,660.

According to County staff the actual average wages are: PGT $24,335 (initially projected average wage of $29,500), Tervis Tumbler $26,572 (initially projected average wage of $31,500). Both companies fell well short of the existing County average wage of $38,660: PGT 38% lower and Tervis Tumbler 31% lower. If the County wanted above-average wages they did not get them with these two companies. Even the “projected average wages” for each company were below the County average wage.

If the goal is above-average wages then why give money to any company projecting below-average wages?

Would these jobs have been created without the County awards? According to PGT President Rodney Hershberger the company was planning to close its plant in North Carolina in the 2006-2007 time frame due to the housing slump. The greatest concern was a lack of land and buildings. In the middle of 2010 PGT began looking at options to move the equipment and employees to Florida, with Sarasota, Jacksonville and Miami as possible sites. PGT primarily serves customers in Florida with impact (hurricane) windows and the North Carolina plant was half impact and half non-impact windows. The plant would be closed and operations moved closer to its Florida market. The intent was to move employees to Florida. However, due to deep family roots at the NC plant only 30 employees actually relocated to Sarasota County. Sarasota was always the top choice because this is where PGT was founded and its the central home location, which best serves its impact windows market. Rodney said of the newly hired employees about 70% live in Sarasota, 10% in Manatee County and 20% in Charlotte County. According to Tim Graham, VP of Human Resources for Tervis Tumbler, “Through the assistance provided to Tervis by the EDC grant we were able to substantially increase our production capacity and employment at Tervis.” PGT used its award to off set the cost of moving equipment. Tervis used its two awards to off set impact fees.

Why did Sarasota County taxpayers invest over $1 million in two well established local companies?

Let’s take a look at the remaining 203 jobs “created” to date. Forty-one had an average wage below the County average. The remaining 162 jobs had an average wage of $52,496 or 36% higher than the County average. This average wage increase was offset by the 886 below-average wage jobs.

There remain award commitments of over $5.5 million for the creation of a “projected” 1260 jobs. Will these create more above-average wage jobs? According to the County spreadsheet the companies yet to produce jobs have a “projected average wage” of $50,232. The “actual average wage” of jobs created by these companies to date is $43,368 or 14% lower than the currently projected wages. Another issue is most of the money given to date was given up front before any jobs were created. The current contracts give companies anywhere from 1 to 6 years to actually create the jobs. It should be noted that only recently do the contracts with the County state that the awards will not be made until after the jobs are created. I believed they learned a harsh lesson from $650,000 awarded to Sandborn Studios on September 2, 2010 with no jobs created to date.

Finally, there are nine awards listed on the Economic Development Incentives spreadsheet to either other governments (e.g. City of North Port Economic Development Study, City of Sarasota Newtown Business Assistance Program) or non-profit agencies (e.g. SCOPE – Institute for the Ages, Rev 3 Triathlon). How does a triathlon attract companies offering above-average jobs you may ask? The monies allocated to these governmental and non-profit entities total $3.84 million or 70% of all remaining awards. This allocation of funding is interesting for two reasons 1) there is no system to measure jobs created by inter-governmental transfers and 2) there is already in place a competitive system to allocate funds to non-profit organizations run by the same office that runs this business incentive awards program. This system has been totally bypassed using these “business” awards to non-profits. The awards may violate the intent if not the verbiage of the County Resolution 2010-199 “to relocate and expand existing businesses”. I did not know the County wanted more non-profits who don’t pay taxes to the County!

The Sarasota County Commission took money owed to taxpayers and redistributed it to a stimulus program that: lacked strict/measurable criteria for awarding the money, created jobs that by enlarge offer below-average wages and has no accurate way to measure any return on the taxpayers investment to the County.

The Sarasota County Commission on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 voted unanimously to repeal and replace Resoluton 2010-199 related to economic incentives provided for businesses that relocate to the county.

David E. Merrill, Sarasota business owner and former Mayor of the City of Sarasota, in a September 8, 2012 email to the County Commissioners stated, “So that you don’t look as foolish as Charlie Christ and the city and county commissioners in St. Lucie, I urge you to stop giving ‘corporate welfare’ checks to companies in the name of economic development, and, instead, focus on building a really great community through wise urban design and a focus on aesthetics and quality-of-life issues.  Let the bankers and investors fund private businesses, not our governments.”

Government does not create jobs, profits do. The more products produced the more profit generated. As demand rises, profits rise and more workers are needed to provide the product or service offered. Without profit there can be no job growth. Government must take profits from one company and redistribute it to another to meet government’s goals.

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Is Project Water Boy a Wash?

Digital Domain closing Florida production office

Digital Domain CEO Textor resigns: Is “heartbroken” by Port St. Lucie closing – Chicago Tribune

Watchdog Wire Interviews Blaise Ingoglia, Sheila Krumholz and Marjorie Dannenfelser

Watchdog Wire interviews three citizens who are doing extraordinary things. Each heads their respective organization and tells the truth about the issue that is top of mind with them and their organization. Each organization is non-profit and issue oriented.

LISTEN TO THE EXCLUSIVE WATCHDOG WIRE INTERVIEWS WITH INGOGLIA, KRUMHOLZ AND DANNENFELSER.
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Our guests appear on the Podcast at the time noted below:

11:00 to 11:20 Blaise Ingoglia, www.GovernmentGoneWild.org. Blase speaks to government spending that is out of control and discusses his latest video “One Nation, Under Water”.

11:20 – 11:40 Sheila Krumholz, www.OpenSecrets.org. Sheila describes the influence of money on elections and how both political parties have focused on fundraising as the way to get elected, perhaps to the detriment of the election process.

11:40 to Noon Marjorie Dannenfelser, www.SBA-List.org. Marjorie describes the differences between the Democrat and Republican political platforms on the issue of the sanctity of life. She explains the history of the Susan B. Anthony List and its impact on statewide and Congressional elections.

Each guest provides special insights into why this election is so very important to them and their organization.

UPDATE:

This is a video released by SBA-List.org addressing what Marjorie discussed during her interview with Watchdog Wire – Florida:

Citizens Insurance Under-fire for Rate Increase

Hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners are receiving notices from their insurance carriers stating, “You are paying more for your policy due to an emergency assessment from Florida Citizens.”

Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is the state-run insurer that provides insurance to individuals who are unable to secure coverage through other insurance carriers. Those covered are often in high-risk or coastal areas. The emergency assessment is “necessary to enable Florida Citizens to pay claims they received from past hurricane seasons.” The emergency assessment is for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (FHCF). The rate increase was passed in July, 2012. According to SunSentinel.com, “Personal residential policies would receive a 10.2 percent statewide average increase, including 10.5 percent for homeowners and 9.7 percent for renters.”

For one homeowner who contacted Watchdog Wire – Florida the emergency assessment on their $160,000 home was $200 per month or $2,400 a year.

Florida has many senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, have seen their investments dwindle and property values drop. A rate increase of this magnitude is problematic for many others who have homes in Florida but live in other states.

To make matters worse it appears that senior officials at Florida Citizens have been spending lavishly while passing on the costs to Florida homeowners. The Florida Citizens website states, “We will demonstrate steadfast adherence to our values and ethical code of conduct.” However, after combing through hundreds of expense reports from the last three years, a team of writers from the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald found executives at the state-run insurance company were living the high life on the company’s dime.

According to investigative reporters Susan Taylor Martin, Jeff Harrington and Toluse Olorunnipa from the Times/Herald, “Chief financial officer Sharon Binnun spent at least $70,000 on travel from January 2011 to June 2012. During trips to Manhattan, Binnun stayed at hotels that cost up to $500 per night. In an April business trip to Bermuda, she upgraded to ‘gold’ status at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, bringing the cost of her room to $633 per night.”

“Former Citizens president Scott Wallace, general counsel Dan Sumner and board chairman Carlos Lacasa indulged in meals that often cost three times the limit put on rank-and-file staff. Wallace flew first-class to London for a meeting with insurers. Travel costs for Citizens — a government corporation run by a board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and other state leaders — are projected to more than double this year, from $1.5 million to $3.4 million,” note Martin, Harrington and Olorunnipa.

Florida Senator Mike Fasano is having none of these shenanigans. He has sent a letter to Governor Scott and the cabinet asking for an investigation of Florida Citizens. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “Citizens’ top executives and board members have been shameless in the way they lavishly spend tax dollars on travel and related expenses,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in a statement. “While crying poor mouth they stay in posh hotels, eat expensive meals, and engage in international travel. While so many of their customers are struggling to cut their personal budgets so they can pay their ever increasing premiums, Citizens’ higher-ups are living high on the hog on the public dime.”

This prompted a letter from Barry Gilway, the new President/CEO and Executive Director of Florida Citizens, stating, “As a government entity operating in an international industry, Citizens walks a fine line between fiscal stringency and the need to conduct business internationally on behalf of all Floridians. We also recognize that there is always is room for improvement and that we have a duty to achieve efficiencies in everything we do, whether in Tallahassee or London.”

The next Cabinet meeting chaired by Governor Scott is scheduled for September 18, 2012. Some have questioned the fiscal soundness of Florida Citizens should a major hurricane hit the state.

CFO Jeff Atwater Endorses Five for Florida Plan

Americans for Properity – Florida (AFP-FL) announces that Florida CFO Jeff Atwater endorsed Five for Florida plan.

“I am pleased to announce my endorsement of Five for Florida. The most important issue facing the State of Florida currently is creating and maintaining jobs, and the Five for Florida plan will create a better economic environment and spur job creation,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

He continued, “Candidates, regardless of party, should be supporting this plan because it speaks to government accountability, transparency and job creation. I am confident that if the policies outlined in Five for Florida are implemented by the Legislature, we will save the taxpayers money while encouraging economic development in our state.”

CFO Atwater joins 90 other Florida elected officials and candidates in endorsing Five for Florida and showing their commitment to a better Florida. Citizens all around the state have been endorsing the plan as well, supporting government transparency, financial accountability, the end of cronyism, increased school choice, and the elimination of barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.

A recent poll shows Florida voters across party lines support the reforms in Five for Florida. A recent poll of “likely” voters showed that there is broad-based support for the reforms in the Five for Florida plan amongst Floridians.

SEE SUMMARY OF THE POLL HERE

The poll shows a majority of Floridians, regardless of party affiliation or cultural background, think that Florida’s government can do better and that the reforms proposed in our Five for Florida plan have broad based public support and should be enacted in the next legislative session.

“Candidate’s who ignore these survey results are doing so at their own peril,” said Slade O’Brien, Execitive Director of Americans for Prosperity in Florida. “They have a choice, they can continue to serve the special interests and those that feed at the public trough or they can side with a public that clearly wants more economic opportunity, transparency, accountability and educational choice,” O’Brien noted.

State Attorney Asked To Investigate Potential Absentee Voting Fraud

MIAMI, Aug. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Paul Crespo, candidate for the Florida Republican House of Representatives, sent a formal letter to Miami Dade County State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle asking for a full and immediate investigation into irregularities in the recent absentee voting process in House District 105, specifically focused on electoral precincts in the city of Sweetwater.

A copy of this letter was also sent to Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz; Collier County State Attorney, Stephen Russell; Commissioner Gerald Bailey, head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE); John Boynton, Director of the Florida Division of Elections; Joseph Centorino, Executive Director of the Miami Dade Commission on Ethics; and the United States Attorney for Florida’s Southern District, Wifredo Ferrer.

 This letter provides detailed information pointing to disturbing patterns of irregular absentee voting in this race that could potentially include voter fraud.

 Based on the raw voting data evaluated by our election consultants and attorneys, we believe we have identified significant statistical and anecdotal evidence of serious irregularities in absentee voting that may have dramatically altered the election results in this race.

According to the Crespo campaign serious irregularities in Sweetwater mirror those recently exposed in the nearby city of Hialeah, which have resulted in various arrests.

 “The vote percentages for absentee ballots in Miami Dade County in House district 105 are totally out of line with the early and election day voting numbers, and even more out of line with the voting results in Collier and Broward counties,” said Crespo campaign consultant Emiliano Antunez, “We will be investigating these major discrepancies and reporting any evidence we uncover to all relevant state and federal governing law enforcement agencies.” 

Following the precedent set by the 1997 lawsuit for absentee voter fraud which successfully overturned that year’s City of Miami mayoral election, we are considering taking action against the Carlos Trujillo campaign shortly.

“I am very disturbed by the information I have been shown pointing to potentially serious irregularities in absentee voting performed by my opponent’s campaign,” said former Marine Corps Captain Paul Crespo. “I served 12 years in the US Marines defending our country and our political system. We cannot allow the integrity of our elections to be undermined.”

Link to Paul Crespo Campaign
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Candidate Fitzgerald Violated Ethics Rules?

Former State Rep. and candidate for the U.S. Congress in District 16 Keith Fitzgerald may have violated Florida’s ethics laws by failing to disclose his conflict of interest in voting on more than $100 million dollars in appropriations for his employer, New College of Florida. The College gave Fitzgerald special employment treatment during his years in the legislature.

The Sarasota lawmaker may also have breached the public trust by using his political position to quietly earmarked millions of dollars to the small liberal arts school, which paid him a full-time salary totaling nearly $300,000 to teach part-time.

Florida House Rule 3.2 (a) says that “A member may not vote on any measure that the member knows or believes would inure to the member’s special private gain or loss. The member must disclose the nature of the member’s interest in the matter from which the member is required to abstain.” House Rule 3.2 (b) requires that members disclose “When voting on any measure that the member knows or believes would inure to the special private gain or loss of: a. Any principal by whom the member … is employed.”

House Rule 3.2 (c) requires that “If the vote is taken on the floor, disclosure under this rule or under any related law shall be accomplished by filing with the Clerk within 15 days after the vote occurs.”

Fitzgerald voted on the following budgets that provided New College with a total of $120,831,068:

• Chapter Law 2006-25, which provided $27,412,720 to New College in year 2006-07
• Chapter Law 2007-72 and 2007-326 (Special Session “C”), which provided $37,513,237 in 2007-2008
• Chapter Law 2008-152 and 2009-1 (Special Session “A”), which provided $31,359,534 in 2008-2009
• Chapter Law 2009-81, which provided $24,545,577 in 2009-2010

In an email on July 18, 2012 from Judy Skinner of the Office of the Clerk, “We find no notice of conflicts on file with the Clerk’s Office from Representative Keith Fitzgerald during his term (2006-2010).”

While voting on state funding for his employer, Fitzgerald benefited from special treatment that allowed him to keep 75% of his salary, but spend more than half of the spring semester in Tallahassee for the legislative session. The legislature was in session for nine of the semester’s 15 weeks.

The vast majority of his students gave him poor evaluations. A total of 75.5% of his students who filled out evaluations made negative comments including complaints that he was “tardy” and “inaccessible.”

The appropriations for New College include nearly $6 million dollars Fitzgerald quietly earmarked to the small liberal arts college of about 800 students.

In the 2007-2008 budgets, Fitzgerald requested $1,537,370 for New College for deferred maintenance. In the 2008-2009 budget, Fitzgerald, $4,440,000 in state funding for New College for deferred maintenance. The project received $2,680,937 in the 2009-2010 budget and $3,305,609 in the 2010-2011 budget.

The Observer Newspaper reported on the “altered treatment by New College for Fitzgerald” to allow him to stay on salary despite the fact that the legislature meets full-time for nine weeks in the spring each year. The paper reported that Fitzgerald earned 75% of his salary during the spring semester when the legislature is in session and was paid for a temporary administrative position in the summer to help make up for the slight reduction in salary. This type of situation — and others that appeared to be quid pro quos — prompted the Legislature to look at banning university employees from being legislators.” (Observer Newspaper 2.22.12)

State Senator John Thrasher introduced legislation to prohibit college professors from serving in the state legislature. The Associated Press reported on January 24, 2012 that “Sen. John Thrasher said the bill he’s sponsoring would prevent conflicts such as lawmakers voting on budget provisions that benefit the schools that employ them.” The Florida Times Union reported on January 6, 2012, that the bill was prompted by recent incidents where lawmakers helped a college or university they were associated with. Thrasher said told the paper the relationship “raises red flags” and “brings up an awkward situation when they have to do something like vote for the budget.”

Sarasota County’s Buses to Nowhere

The Sarasota Board of County Commission believes it is their role to provide public transportation. Automobiles, and the emissions they cause, are the culprits. Cars must be replaced by other means of transportation such as: light rail, high speed rail and now special bus routes. As one commissioner put it “we are subsidizing cars”. So the County Commission wants to continue to subsidize the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses at a loss of $10 million annually and create a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as well. BRT and SCAT make the County Commissioners believe they are doing a public service by providing ever more costly public transportation with few riders.

Sarasota County government runs two bus services and both are monopolies. SCAT is run by the County and the other run by Sarasota County School Board. Both are paid for by county property taxpayers. These two mass transit systems are costly and inefficient in their own way. Neither would last long if privately owned. To make them profitable or at least pay for them the actual cost to ride would have to be passed on to the riders.

According to Charles Schelle from Sarasota Patch, “The latest Bus Rapid Transit route will apparently head for a detour. The $100 million transit plan to provide Sarasota with a speedy bus option with limited stops and traffic interruptions had a route set to go from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and south all the way to the Westfield Southgate Mall with several stops in between, with the northern route following an unused Seminole Gulf Railway along Lemon Avenue.”

$100 million for a 20 mile bus route works out to be $5,000,000 a mile. But that is not the full cost.

Schelle reports, “The County has to find ways to fund the $25 million difference, possibly with a transit tax, and the annual operating budget.” These public transit systems always start out underfunded, end up underutilized and the operating costs escalate beyond the initial projections. In other words they are economic failures from the start.

“The commissions focused in on the county Director of Planning and Development Services Rob Lewis’ comments that the Bus Rapid Transit is more about the economic spurs and opportunities areas around the stations can provide and getting people from low income areas to work than being about moving people for sake of reducing congestion. Lewis said staff has not advocated for an altered route,” writes Schelle. There is no explanation on how this bus line helps economic development. Most people do not work at either the Sarasota/Bradenton airport or Westfield Southgate Mall.

County Commissioner Joe Barbetta stated, “I think that we have to look at the BRT as part of a multifaceted plan. SCAT has to be successful or else the BRT doesn’t work. I think a downtown circulator is inevitable for the city or the plan doesn’t work. And the grant funding has to be pursued or else the plan doesn’t work.”

So how do you make SCAT successful? You give away free rides. According to Schelle, “Thursday [April 19, 2012] is Try Transit Day where riders on regular fixed-route SCAT or commuter Express buses will have free fares. On all other days, the standard fare for a single-ride is $1.25 for the regular fixed-route service and $2.50 for the Express service.” These fairs do not come close to covering the cost of SCAT and cannot cover the operational costs of BRT.

SCAT does not break even and therefor is not successful. SCAT will never be successful. The buses run empty, it loses money as far as the eye can see and its purpose is to transport poor people. Success is based on providing a service to people who want it, not creating a service with no real market. SCAT and BRT are buses to nowhere. That is what government does when it spends other people’s money to build failures.

Toll is a Four Letter Word for Tax

Central Florida currently has eight toll roads and one Interstate (I-4). The Interstate is currently the only freeway highway in Central Florida. The tolls were supposed to be a “temporary tax” to cover “the initial construction costs”. However in Central Florida, the Florida Turnpike is now 55 years old, the BeeLine Expressway is 45 years old and the East/West Expressway is 39 years old and the toll taxes are higher today than ever before. Additionally, in South Florida I-75 turns into a toll road, known as Alligator Alley, at Naples and goes to Ft. Lauderdale.

Sally Baptiste from AmericanStatesman.org notes, “Bottom line – toll roads have become a cash cow for the state of Florida and other states. In the case of the BeeLine Expressway, the initial construction 45 years ago was only 6 million dollars. Through my research I also learned that the Florida gas tax money is used to pay for ‘general state expenses’ and not the roads.”

“The politicians will never admit that highways are the LEAST expensive form of transportation and the number one choice of Americans. The politicians are perfectly content to ignore citizens in support their special interest groups. The politicians are perfectly content to ignore the transportation facts and waste our tax dollars in the interest of their personal agendas,” states Baptiste.

Baptiste provides the following points about toll roads in Florida and across America:

  • Toll taxes go AGAINST the public interest. They do not “promote the general welfare” of the people.
  • There are better ways to increase funds for roads with no tax increase or a very very minimal tax increase. However, this requires those in public office to work in the best interest of the people – not their special interests and in some cases their own financial interests (i.e. OOCEA Scott Batterson is one example).
  • Toll taxes are nothing more than a tax against the people.
  • Toll taxes have nothing to do with improving transportation. “Tolls create gridlock”.
  • Toll taxes are a cash cow for the State of Florida and the local municipalities.
  • Toll taxes are regressive. Lower income individuals are harmed the most and toll taxes represent a major expense to small businesses.
  • The “User Fee” explanation is inaccurate, but is easy way to lure taxpayers. It ignores all the taxes we already pay for use of the roads and everyone pays for “Toll Abuse”. Everyone’s cost of living goes up and disposable income is reduced which takes money out of the local economy. These are a few of the costs associated with “Toll Abuse”.
  • The Interstate Highway system was seen as one of the best economic investments made. It supports the economy, national security, law enforcement, emergency services and improved the quality of life for all Americans.
  • The privatization of public assets and infrastructure is part of Agenda 21. The goal is to limit mobility of the American people and make money for government in the process. This does not “promote the general welfare” – toll taxes go against the public interest.

Baptiste asks the typical Florida motorist: Would you rather pay $1200 a year in toll taxes PLUS $300 gas taxes or $400 in gas taxes with access to all roads?

To learn more visit StolenLanes.org.